• Boring But Big 3 Month Challenge

      by Jim Wendler T-Nation

      Since I released the first edition of 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Building Raw Strength in 2009, I've been asked many questions about assistance work.

      The most popular, effective, and brutal accessory plan is something I coined Boring But Big. I came up with this idea in a Fuddruckers in Tucson, Arizona back in 1998 or 1999. I was eating lunch with a friend of mine and I wrote the idea down on a ketchup-smeared napkin.

      The Boring But Big assistance program is simple. After completing the strength work with the basic exercise (squat, press, bench press or deadlift), you perform 5 sets of 10 reps with a lighter weight. This might not seem like much work, but believe me, it'll lead to new gains in strength and hypertrophy, not to mention serious soreness.

      The problem that most lifters have with the Boring But Big program is that they don't know what weight to use with the five sets. I've always recommended using 50% of your training max – and for the first cycle of the program that's exactly the prescription.

      The second and third months of the program, however, should push the envelope, leading to some bigger and better gains. I was recently inspired by a workout by my good friend Matt Kroczaleski. He flew past the boundaries of good taste by doing 5 sets of 20 reps in the squat with 415 pounds. One set of 20 reps at 415 is pretty good, but five sets? Absolutely disgusting.

      I also remember a story from a friend of mine whose father played professional football in the 1970-1980's. His dad was a big believer in simple strength work in the weight room: squats, bench, clean, press, and deadlift.

      He and a few of his like-minded teammates trained together in a small, dingy weight room, out of sight from the coaches. They kept their secret away from the Machine Tools and Functional Fruits that plagued the Strength Nation (and still do today)!

      One of their crew hated training, but knew that he had to do it to be the best. So while the others were training heavy and hard he just did a simple workout a couple times a week:

      Squat – 10 sets of 10 reps at 315

      Supersetted with

      Bench press – 10 sets of 10 reps at 315

      Not a bad workout for someone who apparently didn't care about training and lifting. Hell, I'm not even certain of the truth of the story but it's cool to retell it. The point is, the basics are always the best.

      The Strength Dilemma

      The problem with many hypertrophy-based programs is that they leave out the strength component. You might get bigger as a result of the program, but if you don't get any stronger you're still a chump in my book.

      That's right, I don't care how big you are, if you aren't strong you're a sham. Having big muscles and no strength is the training equivalent of wearing a strap-on. All show and no go. End of story.

      The Big Lifts

      The first part of the Boring But Big Challenge is that you'll continue to perform the squat, bench, press, and deadlift with the 5/3/1 sets and rep scheme. (If you're unfamiliar with the 5/3/1 program, click here to get the rundown.) The one thing that you'll change is that you will not go for any extra reps on the last set. You'll only do the required reps and then move on to the 5 sets of 10 reps.

      This will do three things:

      • Because hypertrophy is the goal of the program, it will leave you fresher to perform the 5 sets of 10 reps and eventually allow you to do these at a higher weight.
      • It will at least maintain your strength levels – you're still tapping into heavy weights that will keep your body used to them.
      • Many lifters will get stronger when they dial back the last set. You don't always have to push to failure to make gains – this is a belief held by novices and those with limited knowledge.

      The Assistance Lifts

      The second part of the Boring But Big Challenge is the 5 sets of 10 reps. Those that have done this – and done it correctly – know this is nothing to sneeze at (unless you're allergic to hard work and soreness). This is a brutal way to put on size, provided you do it correctly. And by do it correctly, I mean the following:

      • The first month of the program, perform the sets with 50% of your training max.
      • The second month of the program, perform the sets with 60% of your training max.
      • The third month of the program, perform the sets with 70% of your training max.
      So after you perform your 5/3/1 squat workout, do 5 sets of 10 reps with the deadlift. You'll flip the other days as well (see workout example below). This will keep things a little less, well, boring.

      • You may have to do a few warm-up sets leading up to your 5x10 weight. This is fine. Just do 1-2 sets of 5 reps and then get to it. These warm-up sets don't count.
      • Feel free to superset the assistance work. This will shorten the workout time and keep you from sitting on your ass between sets.
      • The assistance work following the assistance work (yeah, I know it's confusing) is important but I wouldn't keep track of it. It's important that the upper body work be paired with a pulling movement (in this case some kind of row or chin up works best).

      I recommend changing up your grip on chin-ups – pronated, supinated, close, medium, wide, narrow, rope/towel. It's very important that one get stronger in all areas of tugging. Also, let's keep kipping where it belongs – in the trash.

      Though it's been said a million times, if you can't do 10 reps of a chin up, do lat pulldowns instead. If you want to do another lat/upper back movement other than rows or chins, that's up to you. These two movements have proven to be superior in developing the lats and upper back.

      For the lower body, I only recommend doing some abdominal work as extra assistance work. Your lower back, hamstrings, quads and glutes are already getting the beating of a lifetime – you don't need any extra work.

      Stick with whatever abdominal exercise you like and keeps you motivated to do ab work. I know how boring it can be so some variety might do you well. Also, if you can, take the belt off for all 5x10 sets.

      You're welcome to do some extra biceps, triceps, or upper back work on the upper body day.

      The exercises that I recommend are:

      • EZ bar curls/DB curls/barbell curls
      • Triceps pushdown
      • Face pulls/rear delt flyes
      This is done after the main work. I only recommend doing a few sets of 1-3 exercises, and none of this should be anything that really "matters." It should be effort-free.

      The older, experienced lifters know exactly what I'm talking about. These are the guys that can do a biceps curl with a 20-pound dumbbell and get more out of it than a kid heaving a 135-pound barbell curl.

      There's an inverse relationship between what you do in the beginning of the workout and the end – the guys pulling 600 pounds for reps seem to try less hard on the curls than the kid pulling 285 for his first double. Something to think about.


      Now if you're going to embark on this quest for strength and mass (and who the hell doesn't want that?), you'd better start eating like you want it. This is not the time to be eating like a coked-out supermodel or be swept away by the newest fad diet scheme. Nor is it time to be scared of carbs or animal fats.

      If you're afraid to eat, then please, don't do this program. This isn't for you, nor is it for someone that's scared one night of eating big will make his skirt fit a bit tighter.

      So unless you're willing to eat big to get big, don't accept the challenge. I don't really care what your goals are; all I know is if someone isn't willing to do all that's necessary, then I can't relate to them.

      Let's just face facts – having a few extra meals a day is hardly a sacrifice. It requires very little effort. Raising a family, having a full time job, and going to school – that's effort. Shoving some food down your mouth isn't a big deal.

      If you have an awesome diet plan for yourself, one that you've used before when you needed calories, then do it. You're your own best resource. The keys to eating big are nothing new. What I'm about to write has been in every muscle magazine, article, and book since Papa Weider started selling aminos and repackaged cake mix.

      Here's a simple, sample diet plan for this workout. This is entirely adjusted to my tastes. Keep in mind my palate hasn't progressed much beyond the second grade.


      6 whole eggs (scrambled with cheese or hard boiled)
      1-2 cups oatmeal
      1 apple


      10 oz. steak
      6-8 red potatoes
      Bag of steamed vegetables

      Lunch 2

      2 chicken breasts
      2 cups Spanish rice
      Bag of steamed vegetables


      2 chicken breasts (or 10 oz. steak)
      Large bowl of pasta and marinara sauce
      Bag of steamed vegetables


      Don't be fooled, whole foods drive the success of this program (next to the programming). I've never been a big supplement guy, but I've found the following items to be very helpful:

      Metabolic Driveฎ Low Carb – The larger your appetite grows, the more you should increase portion sizes. If you want to add some more protein into the diet, I highly recommend having a few Metabolic Drive protein drinks. Three three-scoop servings of MD will add 180 grams of protein to your diet. These can be mixed in a small amount of water (I use about 10-12 oz. of water for 3 scoops). Milk can also be used; 16 oz. of milk works well for 2-3 scoops.

      Other than Metabolic Drive, I recommend the following:

      ZMAฎ – this is my favorite supplement for the simple reason that it allows me to sleep longer and without waking up. Furthermore, I swear it helps me have larger amounts of ejaculate. And you can't put a price tag on that.

      Vitamin C – Although I'm no doctor (and I'm sure they'll frown on this), I take about 6 grams of Vitamin C every day. I believe this helps my recovery and helps alleviate soreness. You aren't going to free from soreness but it helps.

      Flameout™ – I take two Flameout capsules, three times per day. The benefits to your health are amazing – this should be a staple of your diet no matter what you do in your training.

      Recovery Methods

      Whenever a book or article touches on recovery, they have some snappy saying like, "You do your best growth outside the gym." This is a witty way of saying how important recovery is. Still, I see most of the world in "recovery" mode and they all seem pretty weak to me.

      But if you're going to put the time in the weight room, you might as well reap the results by being big and strong. So let's touch on a few simple things that will help you recover:

      The first is diet. This is nothing new. See the outline above.

      The second is sleep. Again, I'm not breaking any ground here.

      Third is proper supplementation. This has also been covered. You may have a few tricks up your sleeve so use those too.

      Here are a few other things that anyone can do and afford:

      Cold showers or ice baths – These things suck but can sometimes alleviate soreness. Note, under no circumstances should you let your girlfriend see your penis when you get out. Your wife? She knows your inadequacies. Your girlfriend may still be under the impression that you have some dignity and size.

      Ice bags – Icing your shoulders, elbows, and knees (and other problem areas) is a great way to get rid of joint soreness. Also a good excuse to sit your ass down in front of the TV and not move.

      Stretching – Do a 10-minute stretching routine, three times a day. Easy to do, you can do it anywhere, and it'll do wonders if you're tight. I outline my three favorite stretches in the NOV section of my 5/3/1 book.

      PVC/Foam Roll – Hitting problem areas like the hamstrings, quads, hips, piriformis, and IT band has saved me a lot of pain and discomfort in my hips, legs, and knees. A lacrosse ball can also be used to really dig into your upper back and piriformis.


      I'm not going to sway on this one at all. I recommend the following conditioning with this program:
      • Walk two miles, 4 days/week
      • Walk 1-2 miles, 4 days/week while wearing weight vest. I recommend the 88-pound XVest (this thing is amazing).
      • Walk two miles, 2 days/week and push the Prowler twice a week. The Prowler workout is as follows, done on asphalt: 10 x 40 yard pushes (sprints or walks) with 90 pounds added to Prowler. The walking sessions can also be done Manly Style, i.e. with a weight vest.
      The Prowler is great for this program because it allows the lifter to get a quality "hard" conditioning session in without a lot of soreness. The Prowler is the best conditioning tool I've ever used – it's great for athletes and especially older lifters. Nothing can compare and there is no substitute. Pushing a plate on a towel across the gym floor is not the same thing. The conditioning days can be done whenever it works into your schedule.

      Cheat Notes (the Program in a Nutshell)

      Month one. 5 sets of 10 reps at 50% of Training Max (TM).

      Month two. 5 sets of 10 reps at 60% of TM.

      Month three. 5 sets of 10 reps at 70% of TM.
      • 5/3/1 sets and reps are explained in the 5/3/1 book.
      • Last sets on the 5/3/1 are not taken to failure; only the required reps are done.
      • All other assistance work should be kept to a minimum.
      • On upper body days, be sure to do some kind of pulling (rows or chins) exercise.
      • This is a 4 days/week program, not 3 days/week or 2, or 5.
      • Exercise substitution will not be tolerated. Ask me about it and I'll pray you catch gonorrhea.

      Sample Workout


      Exercise Sets Reps
      A Military press * *
      B Bench press 5 10
      C Chins 5 10
      ** Curls 3 10
      ** Triceps pushdowns 3 10
      ** Face pulls 3 10
      * 5/3/1 sets
      ** optional, choose between doing one, two, or all three


      Exercise Sets Reps
      A Deadlift * *
      B Squat 5 10
      C Ab wheel 5 10-20
      * 5/3/1 sets


      Exercise Sets Reps
      A Bench press * *
      B Press 5 10
      C DB rows 5 10
      ** Curls 3 10
      ** Triceps pushdowns 3 10
      ** Face pulls 3 10
      * 5/3/1 sets
      ** optional, choose between doing one, two, or all three


      Exercise Sets Reps
      A Squat * *
      B Deadlift 5 10
      C Hanging leg raise 5 10
      * 5/3/1 sets

      Wrap Up

      In a perfect world, 99% of the music being made wouldn't make you question humanity and 100% of the training programs would get you big and strong. That ain't the case, though.

      Fortunately, there is a solution, and it's not performing multiple sets of whatever cable Kegel exercise is being pushed as "The Answer." Just a little hard, smart, basic work.

      It's boring, I agree. Do you want to be entertained or get big and strong?

      Source: http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?****5051741
      Comments 2 Comments
      1. DonnyG's Avatar
        DonnyG -
        Wendler should have a daily column. Always a great read.
      1. Fobra's Avatar
        Fobra -
        LOL - "functional fruits"
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